Album Review: Little Texas – Missing Years
When word started to get around that Little Texas was reuniting to release its first album of new material since 1997, I was skeptical, to say the least. Although the band’s “new” lineup features four of the six original members, Tim Rushlow (currently of Rushlow Harris), and Brady Seals (Hot Apple Pie), who handled most of the band’s vocal duties on its string of hits in the early 90s, would not be rejoining the group, and I immediately recalled the nightmarish debacle that was “Shenandoah 2000″ after the exit of their lead singer Marty Raybon.
This thought was sincerely troubling, because I will admit to being a huge Little Texas fan. The first concert I ever attended (with a girl), in fact, was way back when they had some redneck named Tim McGraw opening shows for them. Fortunately for everyone involved, “Missing Years” doesn’t even come close the Shenandoah train-wreck; to the contrary, the album is a surprisingly decent effort.
The 9513 received two new Little Texas albums–Missing Years, of course, as well as The Very Best of Little Texas Live and Loud.
I listened to the live album first, and was immediately caught off-guard by how much Porter Howell, who takes over lead vocal responsibilities, was able to make the songs (mostly covers of old LT hits) sound like the originals. “Life Goes On,” for example, is almost indistinguishable from the 1995 version.
Howell, however, fails to achieve that same congruity on “Missing Years,” and that failure becomes the album’s biggest flaw–Howell does not posses the vocal depth or flexibility to be a superstar lead vocalist. His vocals, though sometimes understated and effective, can turn screechy (this shows most on the album’s up-tempos like “Gotta Get Me Down Home”), and the bottom line is that he simply isn’t as good a singer Rushlow or Seals.
And while he can get by with what are, more-or-less, copycat performances on “Live and Loud,” he is never able, on “Missing Years,” to live up to the standards set by his predecessors.
What’s worse is that almost all of the up-tempo material chosen for the album is exceptionally lacking in…anything. The lead track, “Rebel,” is as pointless and un-rebellious as “Party Life” is boring and monotonous.
The album’s low point is “Texas 101,” in which Howell sings about the lone-star state: “You kill someone you’re gonna fry / On Willie’s bus you’re getting high.” While both of those points may very well be true, I have to wonder whether or not the death penalty and redneck-hippies are really the things Texans are most proud of.
Even with all that said, we have to remember that Little Texas’ strength was never in its up-tempo material. The band’s legacy will rightfully be one of a certain ‘masculine sensitivity’ that bridged the gap between the hair-metal power ballads of the late 80s and the contemporary country sound that their era would define. Songs like “My Love,” “What Might Have Been,” and “You and Forever and Me,” are classics–so good and so unique that I doubt their style will ever be duplicated.
There are moments on “Missing Years” where we can hear just a little bit of that magic.
The album’s title track, with its smooth melody and sensitive, understated vocal, almost reaches the height of the band’s early hits. “It’s the smell of a morning coffee at the Liberty Café / A smile and a wave from old Sunny, like I hadn’t missed a day / Well it sure ain’t much to look at, just a dusty drive-through town / But the roots that run beneath it are what makes it sacred ground,” Howell sings.
Little Texas deserves a great deal of credit for putting together a relatively strong comeback effort. “Missing Years” is well produced, and it sounds a lot like a Little Texas record. But every artist or band has a time and place, and Little Texas’ has passed. The kids with the heavy-metal hair that we first saw on the cover of “First Time For Everything” way back in 1992 have all grown up, and even though they are the same people, this isn’t the same band.
The seventh track from “Missing Years,” a song called “So Long,” which was not co-written by any member of the band, says it all: “So long ago, we were flying high, best friends for life / Don’t know where it all goes, but you wake one day / And the only thing left you can say, is so long”
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